Review by emister

"A tale of pretty graphics and a promise unfulfilled. (sob)"

Metal Gear Solid- The Twin Snakes Review

Analyzing the reasons why we do what we like to do from time to time is an important thing. So it is with video games. Why do I play games? For me, someone who still gets excited over news of the next new thing after almost 20 years of console gaming, it's the lure of exploring someone else's creation that keeps me coming back. Videogames are art; interactive art that engages not only our eyes and ears, but also our problem solving skills and coordination. The greatest thrill I can get as a gamer is immersing myself in a game where all the elements of story, gameplay, the visuals and audio blend together in perfectly orchestrated harmony, the end result being a flawless game, a true work of art. I'm not sure if there ever has been or ever will be a gperfecth video game, but 1998fs Metal Gear Solid (MGS) for the Play Station was undeniably great. A complex plot of international espionage set in an appropriately desolate environment dealing with political tensions very real to the world we inhabit. A cast of villains and supporting characters each with believable motivations. An above average script and talented voice-acting. An inspirational score. The implementation of gsneakingh gameplay which measured a playerfs skill in creatively avoiding the enemy rather than mowing down vast quantities of mindless soldiers. To the player willing to take the time to smell the roses, the world of MGS is truly a thing of beauty. After spending a few hours on Shadow Moses Island, you can taste the completeness. Playing through Metal Gear Solid in 1998 reminded me exactly why I play games: to see a brilliant idea taken all the way from the creatorfs mind to the hands of a development team, and realized on your television screen almost flawlessly. If youfve never played MGS, stop reading this and go find a copy.

For everyone whofs still with me, in this case, the creator whose dream we participate in, is Hideo Kojima. Innovation comes to mind when I think of Kojimafs games. Something else that pops up is an insane attention to detail. Kojima devised the original Metal Gear for the MSX and later the NES back in the late 80s and has since gone on to create less well known (but still really cool) titles such as Policenauts (originally for the 3DO in 1995), Snatcher (1988 for the MSX and other systems), and more recently, the solar-powered Boktai for the GBA. Even at the time of the first Metal Gear, Kojima was clearly striving for something deeper than a straight-forward action game like gRush eN Attackh or gIkari Warriorsh. The meager capabilities of the NES were limiting, but many elements fundamental to 1998fs Solid can be seen in this 8-bit classic. Like MGS, Metal Gear drops the player off outside a heavily guarded base, with nothing but a pack of cigarettes. At almost any point in Metal Gear, blindly rushing around without thinking will find you shot full of holes or devoured by poisonous jungle spiders faster than you can say Gray Fox. Sneaking past guards is much more simplistic, but still very necessary. Various traps (electrified floors, poison gas, infrared tripwires) familiar to fans of MGS have their origin in the NES game. The technology was limiting, but Kojima was on to something crazy: the cerebral action game. When you think about it, this is fairly incredible for 1987.

Flash forward to 2004. Metal Gear Solid is approaching its 6th birthday, and Kojima and co. are knee-deep in developing MGS 3 for the PS2. Meanwhile, Metal Gear Solid the Twin Snakes (yes, the actual topic of this review! and hereafter MGSTS) is released exclusively for the Game Cube with the help of North American Developer, Silicon Knights (Eternal Darkness, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen). To put it simply, itfs a remake of 1998fs play-station hit using the sharper graphics engine developed for the PS2 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. As I will go into in further detail below, itfs an accurate translation of the original with some small adjustments. The game looks and moves wonderfully and playing through all the old environments is a blast. However, unlike some other next-gen remakes, there is very little in the way of additional gameplay or extra material. After having beaten the game, its clear that to some degree Konami has simply slapped a new coat of paint on an old (albeit really cool looking) game and made it Nintendo exclusive so the big N canft complain of getting the complete shaft when MGS 3 hits. Fans of the series will no doubt love seeing an old-favorite lookinf so crisp (although they may be pissed at some of the small changes), and those playing for the first time will be in for a truly great adventure (though I strongly recommend experiencing the original). In the end though, we have come to expect more than this from Kojima. Those looking for extra material or easter eggs, will instead find Konami giving a somber message: gWhy should we change what is already great?.h Its by this same logic though that the most troubling question concerning MGSTS arises: was this game necessary?

Remakes of popular titles from the past have become quite popular on the current round of hardware. Hell, half of the GBA library is devoted to the task. Whether or not the trend in producing remakes is beneficial to gamers or just companies trying to rehash old favorites for extra cash varies from person to person. However, not all remakes are created equal. The original Biohazard revamped for the Game Cube was a huge success and stands as an example of what a good remake can do for a famous series. Game Cube RE not only has a stunning graphical face lift, but also contained (sometimes drastically) altered maps, additional areas, an appended story, new puzzles, enemies and freaking tough play modes. Capcom and Shinji Mikami had obviously taken the time to give the game a new paint job AND a structural remodeling as opposed to just the former. A similar case would be the upcoming ports of Final Fantasy I & II to for the GBA. This marks the fifth time FF I and II have been re-released to date (previously on the Famicom, Wonderswan, Playstation, and certain Japanese mobile phones) and many would argue that enough is enough. As true as this may be, in the upcoming GBA versions each game will contain an extra dungeon, and allow play as extra characters. In other words: cool, new stuff. Donft get me wrong. Metal Gear Solid: the Twin Snakes is a faithful, beautiful remake of a great game. Itfs an old dog that doesnft do any new tricks though, and is in some ways an unfortunate missed opportunity at extending the life of a classic. (Play as Mei Ling? New costumes for Merryl? Otacon stealth survival mode? Konami, where was your head?)

The convoluted plot of nuclear terrorism emerges on the Game Cube version all but untouched. The opening menu offers the option to access a series of mission briefings providing detailed information about Solid Snakefs upcoming one-man show. Snake has been taken, presumably by force, from his life of solitude in the Alaskan wilderness, and is being ordered to perform a military gblack-opsh mission of the top secret variety. These briefings were available on the PS original, and the dialogue is almost identical. The briefings are in the form of recorded video footage, and introduce a couple of the redone aspects of Twin Snakes: the voice acting and the motion capture. In the PS briefings, the camera was static and stayed mainly fixed on a non-animated view of Snakefs head. Now, the view of the entire briefing room can be toggled between 4 different gcamerash, and Snake, the Dr. Naomi Hunter, the Colonel and the room all appear in full 3D. Through this redone scene, we get our first look at the motion capture work of Ryuhei Kitamura done specifically for Twin Snakes, and itfs a pleasing thing. Character polygons are noticeably smoother than the original MGS and movement seems so fluid and lifelike that it surpasses Metal Gear Solid 2 in this regard. Voice acting in Twin Snakes however is an odd duck. Without exception, the same actors from MGS have been brought back for this version. The script has undergone a few nips and tucks. Also, for some reason all the voices have been obviously rerecorded, the result not always being an improvement. Many characters throughout the game seem goveractedh at points, the first example of this being Snake during the briefing sessions. I can almost see the Japanese voice director telling David Hayter (Solid Snake): gokay, please do the same voice you did last time, but this time give us more INTENSITY, more EMOTION!h The result is over the top and unfortunately makes Snake seem like a more textbook Hollywood action hero than the cold, unflappable killer we have come to know and love. As a last peculiar note, Mei Ling has lost her Chinese accent, but not her lengthy philosophic diatribes.

Snake shows up on Shadow Moses Island alone. Fox Hound, a team of special forces (with almost superhero like abilities), of which Snake was once a member, has taken the island hostage. It served as a nuclear weapons disposal facility and under Fox Houndfs control, it has become a pretty dangerous place to be. When game play begins, we are given our first look at the codec conversations that featured so prominently in the original. Somewhat surprisingly, Konami decided to port these from MGS with no changes whatsoever. Each character talking on the codec is still represented by a few stock facial expressions, a little disappointing when the Game Cube is obviously capable of more. On a side note, I havenft seen the US release, but for Japanese gamers, the codec scenes are especially frustrating. For some reason the Japanese subtitles in the game are noticeably blurry making many of the characters difficult to read. As much of the storyfs detail transpires in these conversations (which are all acted in English), Japanese players are no doubt bummed out. There are also some small pauses (2 or 3 seconds) occasionally, when accessing the codec. These werenft present in the PS version and though small, can disrupt the action in key scenes. (Youfve gotta love that Snake still has to drop to one knee almost anytime he uses the codec.)

In the opening scenes of the game, players can familiarize themselves with controlling Snake on the Game Cube. Button assignment for Snakefs many actions was excellent on the Play Station. The fewer number of buttons on the GC controller (8 as opposed to 10) plus their less symmetrical arrangement could have ruined a game with so many available actions, and where stealthy movement is so important. A bit surprisingly, the Cubefs controller is up to the task, and after a few minutes of experimentation youfll be doing pull-ups and stuffing bodies in lockers with the best of them. After acquiring a gun, players will be exposed to one of the most dramatic differences in Twin Snakesf gameplay: the ability to use weapons in first person mode. Metal Gear Solidfs maps and enemy placements were decided partially on the playerfs inability to shoot while in gfree lookh mode. After scoping around a room, and observing enemy patterns, you had to proceed with caution, and were only able to shoot what you could see from the normal overhead view. Twin Snakes adopts the innovation used in MGS 2, allowing players to aim a laser sighted weapon from the first-person (accessed by pressing the Z button). The problem with this addition being that where Snakefs abilities to snipe foes have been bumped up, no similar reinforcement has been made to the gamefs difficulty. Security cameras which previously required planning and chaff grenades to avoid are now comically snuffed out with a single bullet from a silenced socom. In many places, the gamefs trademark stealth is still required, but in most spots (see the fight with Revolver Ocelot, or any area involving cameras) this seemingly minor addition breaks the gamefs difficulty, making Konamifs decision to simply slap MGS 2s mechanics on top of MGS seem a bit thoughtless and forced. The M9 tranquilizer pistol (which made its debut in MGS 2 but was absent in MGS) further reduces Snakefs trouble with the Genome soldiers. Now, Snake drops into a new area, switches to first-person and with a couple well placed shots all guards are off in dreamland in moments. It would be different (though perhaps unrealistic) if the guards woke up shortly after being put to sleep, but worry not, a dart to the head will have them out for about a half an hour. In the series of snowy caves patrolled by wolf dogs, before, it was either hang back in the shadows and make a desperate break for it, or try and shoot some dogs which never makes a person feel good. Now a little thup, thup from the M9 is all it takes to have the wolves sawing Zs. Abusing the first-person view and M9 to their fullest didnft leave me feeling like a sneaking bad ass. It made me feel like I was cheating. A third element transferred over from MGS 2 and, now possible thanks to the addition of first-person is collecting dog tags from enemy soldiers. Most of the soldiers and all the bosses hold tags with the names of Konami staff members, but unlike the previous game where collecting them all unlocked easter eggs, in Twin Snakes going through the trouble reaps no real rewards.

I mentioned earlier that the character animation in Twin Snakes is high quality. All characters are convincingly animated thanks to some stunning motion capture work. While the movement of the characters in-game has simply been made more lifelike, the cinematic sequences preceding and following boss battles or plot events have been given an injection of John Woo meets Matrix action movie glitter. These scenes do stun and dazzle, but because they are the only part of the game that has been visually rearranged (the rest has just been upgraded or brought up to speed with current tech.), they also seem a little out of place. Where Snake previously seemed a tough, if amazingly skilled human, he now appears to be a combination of James Bond and Neo on crack, dodging a hail of machine gun bullets then stepping on airborne missiles, all in slow-motion. Another curious change in many of these scenes is an increase in the level of blood. The ninja on his rampage to find Hal Emmerich paints an entire hallway in the blood and body parts of several guards, dismembering each methodically in increasingly creative ways before denting the walls with their corpses. The game contained violence before, sure, but like the flashy superhero antics, ramping up the gore when the rest of the game goes unchanged takes away from Solidfs charm without adding anything of substance in its place.

The last item of business worth note is Twin Snakesf altered difficulty. Metal Gear Solid was tough. Granted for many it was the first encounter with the subtleties of a Kojima style action. Traps littered the environments forcing the player to move through the game with care, learning from trial and error when caution wasn't enough. Twin Snakes is significantly less difficult than its namesake for three reasons. First, as mentioned above, the addition of first-person shooting and laser aiming as well as the M9 tranquilizer makes guards and security cameras all but ineffective. This single addition, a relatively small change, single-handedly cripples the difficulty offered in the original. Second, the lack of any new traps or obstacles that werenft present in the original will no doubt frustrate anyone who played through the Play Station version. True, after a few years away from it, I fell for many of the old tricks, but once caught, I remembered falling for them before. Instead, Twin Snakes could have used some surprise traps or new enemies ala the Biohazard remake. Finally, in some some key points, Twin Snakes is just plain easier than MGS. Two spots in particular, the button mashing torture scene with Ocelot about half way through, and the jeep chase scene with Liquid Snake at the end both seemed to present a lot less challenge this time around. I would hope it was just that I am way better at video games now than I was a couple years ago, but unfortunately, I still pretty much suck.

When all is said and done, Metal Gear on the Game Cube looks and plays just like should be expected. The redone graphics will be a treat for any fan of the original game, and the character animation via Kitamura's slick choreography is some of the best yet seen on a console. When Kojima set the bar of quality at this high level in 1998 though, we came to expect nothing less: Twin Snakes' positive qualities are par for the course. The game falls short not for what it has but for what isn't there. The problems are in the area of missing content, of not fulfilling a potential. As we play through the game and wonder why more wasn't done to extend and evolve the life of this classic, it can be a bit frustrating as the mind tries to imagine what could have been done here, or here. Still again, for anyone who hasn't had the pleasure, or is just longing for seeing a smoother moving more visually impressive version of the Shadow Moses Incident, Twin Snakes is worth at least a look. In fact the while this game is far from perfect, it may just be the perfect game to rent.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 04/29/04

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